Watson lands opening blows

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BIRMINGHAM, July 31- Shane Watson marked his maiden Test as an opener by batting through to the rain-affected close of the first day of the third match of the Ashes series here at Edgbaston on Thursday.ENGLANDWatson’s unbeaten 62 was the cornerstone of Australia’s 126 for one at stumps. Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who won his first toss of the series, after rain had left the outfield unplayable before tea, was 17 not out.

Ponting now needed just eight more runs to surpass Allan Border as Australia’s leading scorer in Tests and go third in the all-time list.

All-rounder Watson and Simon Katich put on 85 for the first wicket before off-spinner Graeme Swann struck with his sixth ball to have the left-hander lbw for 46.

Injury-plagued Watson, appearing in only his ninth Test since making his debut in 2005 and first since November, got his chance after Australia dropped opener Phillip Hughes following a 115-run loss at Lord’s that left them 1-0 down in the series with three to play.

And he responded with only the second fifty of his Test career, reaching the landmark in 89 balls, including eight fours.

"He played very well," Swann told Sky Sports. "Obviously there was a lot of pressure on him coming in to replace Hughes and I thought he played very well."

Swann added: "It’s a shame we didn’t bowl as well as we hoped. We knew the Aussies would come out hard and they did that."

Australia coach Tim Nielsen was understandably pleased with Watson’s performance, telling reporters: "He’s played well as an opener in one-day cricket, we knew he was a good player of fast bowling and he showed that.

"We are 1-0 down in a series, we needed to be pro-active – we couldn’t afford to sit on our hands."

Watson’s effort meant he scored more runs in his innings than the 57 Hughes had managed in three during a series where the left-hander had repeatedly struggled against the short ball.

His inclusion represented something of a gamble as he’d never before batted higher than No 6 in a Test.

But Watson, whose selection bolstered Australia’s seam attack, did score 84 and 50 as an opener in last weekend’s tour match against Northamptonshire.

The 28-year-old Queenslander belied a low Test average of 19.76 to off-drive James Anderson in textbook fashion for four.

Watson did almost play on to Andrew Flintoff, the bowling star of England’s victory at Lord’s, on 16.

But he was otherwise assured, off-driving first change Graham Onions’s second ball for four and pulling his fourth to the boundary as well.

Watson, who has played English county cricket for Hampshire, found Onions’s bowling much to his liking, forcefully driving the Durham quick down the ground and next ball pulling him for another boundary.

Australia’s openers posted a fifty partnership in 72 balls and they’d scored 16 boundaries between them in 18 overs before Swann came on.

Swann gave England a much needed breakthrough when Katich, who faced 46 balls with nine fours, missed with an attempted pull.

Australia were forced into a late change after wicket-keeper Brad Haddin sustained a suspected broken fourth finger of his left hand in the warm-up.

He was replaced by 30-year-old South Australia keeper Graham Manou, who was making his Test debut.

Australia had to seek permission from England captain Andrew Strauss to alter their side after including Haddin in the team named at the toss.

Four years ago at Edgbaston, Australia fast bowler Glenn McGrath pulled out after injuring himself in the warm-up in a Test that England eventually won by just two runs.

Hughes caused consternation in the Australia camp earlier in the day by revealing he’d been dropped before the toss on his personal Twitter page.

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